It is a known fact that Australia have had a habit of putting opponents down through words before the start of a big series. Whether it is predicting a whitewash or underrating the opposition, they have used this tactic successfully over the years. The build up to this Ashes was no different. But, the current English is not the one to buckle under pressure. They themselves gave it back to the Aussies in kind and, on the field. Putting up a superlative performance, they exposed many chinks in the Australian armoury, when it wad supposed to be the other way round. They also made all the hard talk by Australia look hollow.
As they head into Lord's, Australia have been forced to have a relook at their side, and rightly so. Following two successive failures at Cardiff, ageing all-rounder Shane Watson was under pressure to retain his place in the team. And, Australia have taken the expected step of dropping him for the second Test, and bringing in the fresh legs of Mitchell Marsh, who was in sublime form during the practice games. The rationale behind dropping Watson was not just the fact that he failed, but his growing tendency of getting trapped on the crease with incoming deliveries, thus making him an easy prey for bowlers, which proved to be the case at Cardiff.
Another player who was under pressure following his poor showing with the bat and gloves was veteran wicket-keeper Brad Haddin. But, the motormouth of the team, who never misses an opportunity to be nasty at a struggling opponent, chickened out sighting personal reasons. This is not the first time Haddin has opted out of a match citing personal reasons, but if his replacement Peter Nevill does well it certainly might be the last time. Even if he hadn't sat out of the Test, Haddin might well have been replaced after his poor efforts at Cardiff. So it does seem the case for now that Haddin took out the easier route.
The problems for Australia do not end with Haddin and Watson. Mitchell Starc's injury worries are a concern as well. He bowled without much trouble in the nets. However, question marks over his availability at Lord's remain. And, if he is ruled out, it will be a massive blow for Australia. In such a scenario, Peter Siddle is expected to come in, and while he is a good bowler in his own right, Siddle has never proved to be an out and out match-winner. The form of key Australian players like Mitchell Johnson, Steven Smith and skipper Michael Clarke, all of whom are integral to the team's success, is also worrying.
England, in contrast, would be buoyed the manner of victory at Cardiff. Both their batsmen and bowlers put their hands up and did a great job. Joe Root lived up to the pre-hype buzz, with a century and a fifty while Moeen Ali answered critics with a superlative all-round effort. Gary Ballance and Ian Bell, who were desperate for runs, got themselves into some kind of form, with a half-century each. Ben Stokes also chipped in with both bat and ball. James Anderson wasn't at his very best but still provided decent support to the fiery Stuart Broad. If anything, they need runs from openers Alastair Cook and Adam Lyth.
-- By A Cricket Analyst